Review: Roomies

Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. 2013. Reviewed from ARC.

The Plot: It’s the summer after high school graduation, and EB and Lauren are both looking forward to college.

EB is looking forward to leaving her small New Jersey beach town, her mother, her circle of friends and their expectations.

Lauren isn’t planning on going far from her San Francisco home, but she is still going to live at college. Leaving loving parents and many younger brothers and sisters, she looks forward to privacy.

Which is why Lauren requested a single.

Instead, she gets a roommate: EB.

Over the course of the summer, EB and Lauren exchange emails, gradually getting to learn more about each other — and themselves.

The Good: This is the exact type of book I wanted to read in high school, wondering and worrying about college.

Roomies is told from the points of view of both EB and Lauren, both what they’re thinking and the emails they exchange. There are misunderstandings — Lauren at first believes that EB is more well off than she is. EB thinks Lauren’s delays in response are personal. They not only grow to know each other better, but also to be more honest. The honesty is two-fold: yes, being more honest and real with each other in their emails, but also being more honest and real with themselves.

It’s not that either EB or Lauren have been lying to themselves; it’s that they are both still growing, both still becoming.

For EB, it means that the tight group of friends she has is suddenly too tight. They boy she is dating no longer feels right. She feels distant from her best friend. She meets a new boy, and that brings another level of complication. Her mother is busy with her own life. EB knows she is about to leave her town to start her own life at college; she just didn’t realize how emotionally she’d begin leaving before leaving.

For Lauren, her life has been tied up in her family. Yes, there’s been school and she’s been serious about her studies, enough to win a scholarship. And she has a best friend. But she hasn’t been someone going to parties; when she’s not working, she’s helping to take care of her younger brothers and sisters. Forget privacy; Lauren has rarely had time to think about herself, let alone be by herself. Lauren had thought college would be when she was free to think of herself, and she surprises herself by falling for a boy. Suddenly, Lauren’s life isn’t as simple as it had been.

I love how Roomies is three stories: EB’s story, Lauren’s story, and the story of the two of them beginning to forge a relationship. As a reader, we can see the bigger story that neither of them can see, and that is part of the fun. And “fun” includes some cringing, when someone says something thoughtlessly cruel or judgmental and just not really meaning it, or meaning how it was taken.

One other thing, which is a bit funny: EB is from New Jersey. A beach town. Called Point Pleasant. Have I mentioned that my family is from the Jersey shore? A town called . . . . Point Pleasant. I KNOW. I actually went “oh no” when I read this, because it’s a bit tough to read (or watch) fiction set in a place you know. (See: viewing of the TV series, Point Pleasant.) The good news: no one pumps their own gas! Better news: there are just enough real and accurate details to give one the flavor of the town, without being overwhelmed by unnecessary details. (Oh, and in case you were wondering…. EB doesn’t say whether it’s the Beach or the Borough.) (About five of you got that.) (No, I didn’t graduate from either Pt Beach or Pt Borough but my mom taught at the Beach.)

Other things I liked about Roomies: how race is talked about. Both EB and Lauren are white; the boy Lauren is interested in is black. This isn’t an issue, but it is something that is talked about. The parents have their own lives, in different ways. Lauren has five younger siblings, the eldest who is only six, and her parents are always tired or stretched for money. They are trying, and want what is best for Lauren, but, they are tired. And busy. Meanwhile, EB and her mother have been on their own since her father left the family. He left her mother for another man; but he also left EB, moving across the country to start a new life that didn’t include her. Her mother has made some choices about who she dates that seem rooted in her own insecurities and loneliness. All of these adult issues are always part of the proper background of EB’s and Lauren’s stories, shaping the lives of their daughters, but doing so without overwhelming or taking over.

Even though Roomies ended just as college began, this felt very much like a college story because it’s about EB and Lauren beginning to move away from their high school selves. It captures that mix of wanting to leave and not wanting to leave; wanting independence and fearing it. And figuring out just what independence means. Because of that (and, well, because Pt. Pleasant!) this is a Favorite Book Read in 2014.

Other reviews: StackedBook Brats; Nerdy Book Club; Cite Something.


Flashback: February 2006

And now a look back at what I reviewed in February 2006:

Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliff. From my review: “A retelling of the Trojan War. Some people don’t understand reading something when you know the end. I’m one of those who will always read a book about Troy, even tho I know how it ends. I like Sutcliff’s version of Homer’s Iliad because it is a classic retelling. It doesn’t introduce new characters; it doesn’t give a modern spin; it doesn’t change anything. I love that it tells the story as it is. I find it hard to appreciate versions such as Troy by Geras or The Firebrand by Bradley without knowing the original tale as it was told.

Birdwing by Rafe Martin. From my review: “In The Six Swans by the Brothers Grimm, six brothers are turned into six swans. They are eventually returned to human form; except for the youngest brother, Ardwin, who is left with a wing for an arm. Martin tells the story the life of Ardwin, who has to live with the tangible reminder of the curse. . . .  Martin stays close to the original tale, because all that happens before the book begins. Ardwin, the youngest son, has returned home to his father’s castle. As can be imagined, life with one arm and one wing is not easy, and Ardwin works hard to accomplish physical tasks. But always there is a longing — to return to the swans, to the freedom of flying, to belonging, instead of being the freak, the outsider. Ardwin learns that you can’t go home again; that the past, and childhood, is another country. “I was confused by childhood memories. Things had seemed so good, then.” But the swans are no more welcoming than humans, and now that Ardwin is unable to return to the past, and has no future — what to do? Where to go?

Raising The Griffin by Melissa Wyatt. From my review: “Alex is happy with his life in England. There’s some family stuff going on that never had much to do with him; his father was always quite clear that their grandfather’s dream of reclaiming the past was just that, a dream. But then the dream becomes a reality, much to Alex’s dismay. He’s totally unprepared for it. The dream? Turns out Alex’s family used to be the rulers of an Eastern European country. They fled with their lives over 80 years ago. And now — the family has been asked to return and resume the monarchy. Alex is now Prince Alexei.

The Thieves of Ostia, The Roman Mysteries by Caroline Lawrence. From my review: “Rome for Middle School. These books are a mix of mystery, action, adventure and history. The four main characters are ages 8 to 12 and are a multicultural mix: Flavia is a middle class Roman; Nubia is African, and in Book 1 is Flavia’s slave; Jonathan, the next door neighbor, is Jewish; and finally there is the homeless boy, Lupus. Flavia frees Nubia, and the four have adventures and solve mysteries, and travel from Rome to Pompeii, meeting anyone and everyone from Pliny to assassins. The kids take action; they do things, rather than having adults do things for them. They ask questions, get in trouble, and work things out. As far as I can tell, Lawrence has done a superb job of keeping these books correct historically. The kids do act older than they seem; I keep picturing them as older than they are. It works, tho, because of historical and cultural differences. Kids back then were older than today; for example, Miriam, Jonathan’s sister, is only 14 but is engaged to an “old” man in his 30s. So it makes sense that these kids who are 8 to 12 are acting more like they are 12 to 15.

The Queen Of Cool by Cecil Castellucci. From my review: “Libby is the Queen of Cool. She is so cool that she’ll tape a pen to her shirt and by the rest of the day, everyone else has taped pens to their shirts. Except by then the cool kids aren’t doing it. As you may imagine, someone who is now taping pens to her shirt is a little bit bored. But what’s the Queen of Cool to do, when her life is perfect: she’s popular, her parents are well off, she has the right clothes, the cute boyfriend. Libby volunteers at the zoo. With geeks. When Libby starts learning some truths about herself, cool kids, and geeks, will the girl who was brave enough to walk thru the school formal in her underwear be brave enough to risk not being the Queen of Cool?

So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld. From my review: “Hunter is a “cool hunter,” always on the lookout for the Next New Thing. It’s not that he’s a victim to cool; rather, he’s someone who gets asked to focus groups to decide whether a product and its ad campaign are cool or not cool. In his “pyramid of coolness”, he’s close to the top: a Trendsetter. At the top of the pyramid? Innovators, the people who do the things first who inspire others. Hunter meets Jen, an Innovator, and finds himself falling for her — and getting pulled into a mystery when his friend Mandy disappears. Missing people, sneakers so wonderful they take your breath away, weird ad campaigns, purple hair, a chase across rooftops — Jen’s an Innovator, and about to turn Hunter’s life upside down. Hunter’s pyramid; starting at the top, Innovators; Trendsetters; Early Adopters; Consumers; Classicists; Laggards. This is anti-consumer; but with its approach to how trends are invented and sift thru the culture, it also acknowledges the importance and impact of trends in people’s lives. It’s much more than “brands are bad,” because some of what happens isn’t brand-related. It’s about those people with the “shine” of new ideas, and those who honestly think those ideas are interesting, and how that trickles down. Yes, it’s anti-consumerism; but I also think its anti-snobbery, skewering all levels of the pyramid. It laughs at both the person wearing last year’s pants and the person jonesing this year’s cell phone, but at the same time understands the want and need.

A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl by Tanya Lee Stone. From my review: “Josie, Nicolette and Aviva are 3 different teenage girls who each fall for the same bad boy, TL. A book in verse. . . . Each girl struggles with the conflict between how TL makes her feel — emotionally flattered and physically turned on — and what her head is telling her. Because with each girl, there are signs that TL is indeed bad: a manipulator. A liar. A user. And each girl, for one reason or another, refuses to see the truth of the situation because of emotions and hormones. Hears the whisper, this isn’t quite right, yet ignores it. Is a bad boy good for a girl? Each girl is left a little older and wiser. Wiser about herself. And while I hate to talk about “messages” and prefer to let the story speak for itself, I hope that the teenagers reading this will be able to apply this to their own lives and recognize the bad boys before they get hurt.

a brief chapter in my impossible life by Dana Reinhardt. From my review: “Simone is a junior in high school. She thinks her life is full and complete: Mom’s an ACLU lawyer, Dad’s a political cartoonist; she has good friends, and her younger brother Jake just started high school. The family defines normal, and her problems fall under that category also: what club to join at school? what to do about her best friends new relationship, with a guy Simone doesn’t like? especially when her friend starts sleeping with him? and what about the guy Simone may like, who works at the coffee counter and may or may not have a girlfriend? Then another problem falls into her lap. Her parents announce that Rivka wants to get in contact with Simone. Rivka — Simone’s birth mother. Simone has no desire to find out anything about Rivka; she’s quite satisfied with life as she knows it. But her parents won’t let it go and now Simone is getting answers to questions she never wanted to ask.

Over At the Horn Book

In this blog, I’ve had a several posts about “New Adult,” books aimed at readers over 18. And, at ALA last year, Sophie Brookover, Kelly Jensen, and I conducted a conversation starter about New Adult.

Sophie, Kelly, and I recently collaborated on an article about New Adult for the January/February 2014 issue of The Horn Book, What’s New About New Adult?

Here’s a peak: “New Adult — aimed at an adult audience but with strong appeal for teen readers — has recently garnered much buzz. Story lines tend to follow the contours of contemporary genre romance novels, but starring younger characters. NA initially took hold in the self-publishing world (the quality of writing varying wildly), and these books found an audience of dedicated, loyal, even ravenous readers. Authors could write stories that satisfied their fans and publish them quickly. With such a proven fan base, it didn’t take long for traditional publishing houses to take notice, seeking out and acquiring some of these high-performing books and trying their own hands at New Adult.

The full article is at The Horn Book website; go, read, let me know what you think.


Battle of the Books 2014 – Predictions

And now, my predictions for the Battle of the Books! So, let’s take a look at books, judges, and the rounds.

The thing about making predictions is it’s both about the books and the judges. I haven’t read all the books, true, but I’m not going to let that stop me. You can read about the judges at the SLJ BoB website.

Before I do, some quick dates:

The “undead poll,” where you can vote on a book to return to the final round even if it’s voted out, starts February 26 and ends March 9.

Round 1 is March 10 to 20.

Round 2 is March 21 to 26.

Round 3 is March 28 and 31.

The “return from the grave” books is announced April 1 (no fooling!)

Round 4, the final round, is April 2.

Over at the SLJ BoB, they’re taking predictions and doing a mock SLJ BoB, so click over and vote.

And now, my predictions!

Round 1

All the Truth That’s in Me v The Animal Book, Judge Vaunda Nelson. Having not read either one, I randomly picked The Animal Book.

Boxers & Saints v A Corner of White, Judge Yuyi Morales. Having read Boxer & Saints, that’s what I picked.

Doll Bones v Eleanor & Park, Judge Lauren Oliver. I read both of these! Doll Bones, because. I also think Eleanor & Park will be the “oh, I cannot believe it lost so early” book.

Far Far Away v Flora & Ulysses, Judge Sarah Mylinowski. Once again, I go with the book I read: Far Far Away.

Hokey Pokey v March Book One, Judge Tom Angleberger. Didn’t read either one, I picked March Book One.

Midwinterblood v P.S. Be Eleven, Judge Mac Barnett. While I read and love Midwinterblood, I think it isn’t for everyone. Plus, I realized I kept on picking based on what I’d read, so this time, I went with what I haven’t read — P.S. Be Eleven.

Rose Under Fire v The Thing About Luck, Judge Malinda Lo. Rose Under Fire because Lo writes young adult books.

True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp v What the Heart Knows, Judge Sheila Turnage. Having read True Blue, that’s my pick.

The tricky thing from here on out is that it’s all based on my predictions, so I can be really really right …. or horribly, embarrassingly wrong.

Round 2

The Animal Book v Boxers & Saints, Judge Tonya Bolden. I’m going with “pick something I read,” so Boxers & Saints.

Doll Bones v Far Far Away, Judge Rae Carson. I’ve read both; but this time, I’m going to lean towards Far Far Away.

March Book One v P.S. Be Eleven, Judge Joseph Bruchac. Having not read either one, I’ll go with P.S. Be Eleven.

Rose Under Fire v True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, Judge Katherine Marsh. Another choice between two books I read; and so I’m picking Rose.

Round 3

Boxers & Saints v Far Far Away, Judge Patrick Ness. I’m putting my money on Far Far Away.

P.S. Be Eleven v Rose Under Fire, Judge Robin LaFevers. I think Rose Under Fire will take this one.

Return from grave guess: Eleanor & Park. See! See what I did? I didn’t pick this earlier in part because I’m convinced it’ll be the book that returns.

Round 4

Far Far Away v Rose Under Fire v (return from grave) Eleanor & Park, Judge Jennifer Holm. And what will win here? I think Eleanor & Park.

What do you think?


Battle of the Books 2014

It’s that time of year again!

Time for School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books!

I’m a big fan of the Battle of the Books, because, well, it’s fun.

A quick explanation for those new to SLJ BoB: Sixteen books are selected. Judges from the children’s/young adult publishing world are given two books to read. They select a winner; those winners advance to a new judge; and so on, until there is one winner. Past brackets and judges and results are at the SLJ BoB website.

The rounds — and decisions — start March 10. More on that in a later post!

What do you think of the list? What would you have liked to see here? What were you surprised about?

The 2014 contenders:


THE ANIMAL BOOK by Steve Jenkins

BOXERS AND SAINTS by Gene Yang. From my review: “Why Boxers and Saints? Why not just interweave these as two stories? Why not make it one volume? To make this part of one story — telling a few pages of Bao, a few pages of Vibiana — would, I think, minimize the importance of both. Bao deserves his own book; so, too, does Vibiana; and this way, they both have it. Truth to tell, I think Vibiana’s story would not be as strong if it were interspersed with Bao’s. It turns out, it’s not just Bao’s and Vibiana’s characters that meet: other people show up in both books, and offer different perspectives about what is or isn’t happening. But isn’t that history? Things that change depend upon perspective? One person’s hero is another’s murderer? What Yang accomplishes here, what is so terrific, is he manages to have the reader by sympathetic to both Bao’s and Vibiana’s beliefs. Yes, Bao — and other Chinese — are subject to humiliations and abuse because of the foreigners, and because of Christian missionaries. Yet switch to the missionaries and to the Chinese Christians and we see people asked, simply, to decide between life and faith.

A CORNER OF WHITE by Jaclyn Moriarty

DOLL BONES by Holly Black. From my review: “A story about growing up and, maybe, growing apart, and the intense, physical sense of loss that brings. . . .  Growing up –  what Doll Bones is really about is growing up and growing apart. I adored the game the three played, and I got so mad at Zach’s father for trying to stop his son from playing, and at the same time, I read about the game and the play-acting and knew that what Poppy is fighting is true, no matter what: that they are outgrowing the game. That some of them may be outgrowing it faster than others. That children grow and change and it happens. The ghost that will haunt Zach and Poppy and Alice will not be the ghost of a long dead child, but rather the ghost of their childhood and their games, even if some things (friendships, creativity) will survive. It is also the games, and all they learned pretending, that makes them able to go on a real adventure, and that, also, is growing up, taking the skills practiced in games and doing it for real.

ELEANOR AND PARK by Rainbow Rowell. From my review: “A wonderful, enchanting story of two sixteen-year-olds falling in love.  When Eleanor and Park’s hands touch for the first time — when they realize that what they feel is reciprocated — as they try to work out their feelings for each other against a harsh background — oh, all the highs and lows and first love.

FAR FAR AWAY by Tom McNeal. From my review: “To begin with, the ghost is Jacob Grimm, of the Brothers Grimm. It is Jacob telling this story: “What follows is the strange and fateful tale of a boy, a girl, and a ghost. The boy possessed uncommon qualities, the girl was winsome and daring, and the ancient ghost . . . well, let it only be said that his intentions were good.” Because it is Jacob, and because it is a tale told after, the tone and style are distinct, original, and infuses the whole tale. In some ways, I was reminded of Bartimaeus, except the ghost Jacob is constantly concerned with the well-being of Jeremy; but, like Bartimaeus, Jacob has a bit of an ego about it. He is, after all, Jacob Grimm.

FLORA & ULYSSES by Kate DiCamillo

HOKEY POKEY by Jerry Spinelli

MARCH BOOK ONE by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

MIDWINTERBLOOD by Marcus Sedgwick. From my review: “Always, there is an Eric and a Merle; a hare and a loss; and the island of Blessed. These are the constants. What changes in the seven stories of Midwinterblood is the time, starting in the future, 2073, and going back in time again and again until the seventh story set in a time so far past it has no date. What changes are who, exactly, Eric and Merle are; and how they connect or don’t. On what is lost. And always there is the hare. What is happening? What is going on Blessed?

P.S. BE ELEVEN by Rita Williams-Garcia

ROSE UNDER FIRE by Elizabeth Wein. From my review: “Rose Under Fire is primarily told by Rose herself. First, in some journal entries from the summer of 1944. Then, there is a handful of correspondence from others that show that Rose is missing, presumed dead. Next, entries beginning in April 1945, with Rose in Paris, having escaped Ravensbruck. The jacket copy tells that Rose is sent to Ravensbruck – no spoiler there – and Rose Under Fire shows how Rose ended up in the concentration camp, what happened to her there, how she survived — and what she does to put her life together after. Rose is eighteen, young, and prisoned in a place where she doesn’t even really know the language. . . . Probably, the last important thing to know about Rose and how she survives: she’s lucky. Rose is lucky, because she makes friends and connections that will help her survive.  . . . There is also harshness and cruelty, blood and death, mud and hunger, fear and desperation. For Rose and the others there are two types of survival: physical survival and mental survival. What does it mean, to be in a place like Ravensbruck? What does it mean, to survive Ravensbruck? To live, after?”

THE THING ABOUT LUCK by Cynthia Kadohata. From my review: “What a perfect middle grade book. Summer, 12, is a sympathetic heroine. When she got annoyed and frustrated with her younger brother and grandparents, I was right there with her. When she was embarrassing herself in front of her crush, I blushed for her. When she figured out a way to help her family, I cheered. I also love how wonderfully balanced The Thing About Luck is, perfectly balanced as mirror and window. Summer is such a typical twelve year old, that readers will be able to identify with her. What may not be so typical? Her old-fashioned grandparents. Her grandmother, who hides her feelings with a brusque exterior. Her younger brother, whose anger issues shape how the family interacts with him. Her parents leaving for so long. And, of course, working the harvest. With the assistance of Julia Kuo’s illustrations, the whole process of “harvesting” a farm is explained. This is not an easy or simple job. It takes work and coordination. Anyone reading this book is going to look at their loaf of bread differently. And they may also think, “yes, I could run that combine…” because, just like Laura Ingalls Wilder, Kadohata shares tons of details and explanations of why and how a harvest works.”

TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP by Kathi Appelt. From my review: “What really won me over was the plotting. While the main stories are those of Bingo, J’miah, and Chap, the other characters and their stories are also fully fleshed out. And — eventually — all those various threads come together in one momentous event. When I went back to the start and began rereading, I was delighted to see how some of that was foreshadowed. This is a book I would love to mark up with highlighters and sticky notes, to be able to get a firmer understanding of the genius behind it. It was delightful to see how an event in Bingo’s story overlapped with Chap’s. One example, without being spoilery: as a young man, Audie spent a lot of time in the swamp. He loved the wildlife, taking photos and drawing pictures. He was especially intrigued by the maybe-extinct ivory bill woodpecker. Due to a very bad storm, Audie’s car was lost within the swamp, along with his photos.Guess what is the home of Bingo and J’miah? If you guessed the car, you’d be right.”



Morris Award Winner!

The Morris Award Winner was announced at the Youth Media Awards at ALA Midwinter 2014.


The Winner:

Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn. St. Martin’s Griffin, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, a division of Macmillan. From my review: “Charm & Strange is a brilliant look at a damaged child, and the teenager he becomes. It’s about what happens when the world breaks a child, and he’s left alone to pick up the pieces and reconstitute a life and a personality. Even better: Charm & Strange is told entirely from the point of view of Win, who doesn’t recognize the damage or the impact. He is an unreliable narrator who believes he is a telling us the truth.”

The Finalists:

Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian. Carolrhoda LAB, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group. From my review: “I love Evan, and I love his journey. I love that he calls himself a dirtbag and then makes cupcakes for a little boy’s birthday. I love that he worries about the girl who was attacked. I love how he makes friends, and the people he makes friends with. I love that he decides to learn how to fight. I love the realistic portrayal of a victim of violence. I even grew to love his father. And I feel weird saying “love” because Evan and the others in the book are so flawed and real. And that “love” may be mistaken for “like.” I don’t like what happened to Evan; I don’t like the place he is in at the start of the book; I don’t like the journey he has to go through. I want to reach into the pages and fix it for him and make it better. No, I don’t like the violence or how Evan treats women. But I love how real and true Evan is, and the things that happen to him, and the people around him.

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos. Houghton Mifflin, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. From my review: “The reader knows that if James calls his parents the Brute and the Banshee, his home life is not simple and happy. Whether the labels are that of an angry teen, or deserved, is revealed slowly. James doesn’t even quite realize, or acknowledge, the full dynamics of his family. James — like other teens — is recognizing the way his family works and his own role in it. Yes, they are deserving of the labels Brute and Banshee — but enough is shown of their own pasts to show how they ended up the way they are. And that they aren’t just their label. What James wants is to get his [runaway] sister back. This forces him into action, with one thing leading to another. His wanting to learn more about his sister’s poetry leads him to being involved with the literary magazine, using his own poetry and photographs. He wants to see a therapist, recognizing his own anxiety and depression needs more than in imaginary pigeon (even if Dr. Bird’s advice is sometimes good), but to do so needs a job, so starts working at a pizza place with Derek. So one step in James’s life leads to more steps, that both open up his world but also result in James own personal growth, including the steps he takes for his own depression. And that those steps are more than “make friends, get out of your house, find a hobby” (all things that James does in fact end up doing) — they are meeting with a therapist (a real one) and using that.

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross. Delacorte Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. From my review: “All too often, historical fiction is about the “fancy” things, so, the things that the rich and well to do have. It is about the options that those people have. Isabelle, then — the daughter of wealthy parents who years only for an education — would be the main character, so that the parties and events and dresses could be described but you’d also have a “good” main character, one who values education over appearance and strives for independence. Instead, there is Maud. Maud, who ran away and finds that life in Paris, while magical, is also about being hungry and desperate when you’re poor without connections. It’s about having to sit silently while someone describes the flaws of face and figure. Despite the cover image, this is not about someone who is beautiful. When she gets to wear pretty clothes, they are not truly hers: they are part of the person she has to pretend to be. She is only just now learning about the world of art and music, and Isabelle introduces her to photography. Maud discovers things and people to care about, and has to decide whether her job is more important than her integrity and her relationships with others. And she has to do so while wondering how to pay rent and buy food. Because she already has independence, her struggle is how to maintain it.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters. Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS. From my review: “Mary Shelley, scientist, always pragmatic, almost dies. After, she sees and senses things differently. One of those things — well, a ghost. Or, at least, one ghost. Believing in spirits doesn’t mean that she also believes, suddenly, in spirit photography or seances. In some ways, it makes her more skeptical. At this point, In the Shadow of Blackbirds also turns into a mystery, as Mary Shelley begins to investigate the death of the ghost. (Look at me, being all careful about that identity of the ghost!) Mary Shelley is an interesting character: she’s the daughter of a female physician, who died shortly after giving birth to her. Her father’s been arrested for treason, but it’s more that he’s an an anti-war pacifist than someone agitating for the downfall of his country. She loves science, and is the type of person who, when she takes something apart and then puts it back together, it works better than it did before.

Flashback: February 2008

A look at what I reviewed in February 2008:

Ancient Inca: Archaeology Unlocks the Secrets of Inca’s Past by Beth Gruber; Johan Reinhard, Consultant and Ancient Greece: Archaeology Unlocks the Secret’s of Greece’s Past by Marni McGee, Michael Shanks, Consultant. From my review: “This series explains archaeology, the process, the finds, how there is always something new to be discovered or a new interpretation to be made. I like the photos; I like the time lines; I love the resources. And I like how there is something unique about each book.

Adventures in Oz (founded on and continuing the famous Oz stories by L. Frank Baum) by Eric Shanower. From my review: “Five stories continue the adventures of Dorothy & Co in Oz. And this is Baum’s Oz, not [Judy] Garland’s. Fans of the movie may be both disappointed and puzzled; fans of the book will love it.


Review: Untold

Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan. The Lynburn Legacy, Book 2. Random House. 2013. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: In Unspoken, seventeen year old Kami Glass learned the truth about her village, Sorry-in-the-Vale. Short version: sorcerers are real. Kami’s family may not be sorcerers, but they have the potential to be something just as valuable: a source, magnifying a sorcerer’s magic.

In Untold, now that the secret is no longer so secret, the sorcerers want to take over her village, and reinstate the old ways. Real old ways: like human sacrifice.

Kami is not about to let that happen. Not to her village. 

So what if she’s not sure who is or isn’t a sorcerer? Or whose side anyone is on? Or that she’s not even quite sure where her own mother stands?

She’s Kami Glass. The sorcerers better watch out.

Well, if only it were that easy . . . .

The Good: Despite the fact that Untold is about evil sorcerers who view regular humans as below them in the food chain, so think that human sacrifice isn’t too much to ask, and has terrifying scarecrows coming to life to attack people, despite all that, I’d love to visit Sorry-in-the-Vale and hang out with Kami and her friends. (Well, as seventeen year old me.) Because Kami and her friends are funny and brave. Yes, they’re scared, but they don’t let that stop them.

I have to emphasize this great mix of humor and guts because Sarah Rees Brennan does it so splendidly. That I can laugh and be scared at the same time? Excellent.

Here’s a bit, where Kami’s friend Rusty describes the Lynburn cousins, Jared and Ash: “Jared and Ash – or, as I think of them, Sulky and Blondie – are still sorcerer trainees.” Not only did I laugh, but it’s a great, irreverent look that at the two powerful teen sorcerers that also reveals Rusty’s personality. And yes, Jared is all Mr. Broody while Ash is Mr. Handsome.

The first book, Unspoken, set up Kami’s world, introducing the reader gradually to the reality of magic and murder and sorcerers, of lies told to protect and to mislead. Now that the rules are set up, the fun can really start. OK, so it’s not fun — but in a way, it is. Yes, it is a matter of life and death; of freedom. And there are moments of betrayal and doubt. But it’s also fun, to spend time with Kami and her friends.

Rob Lynburn is the powerful sorcerer who has plotted to take control of Sorry-in-the-Vale; he and his sister-in-law, Rosalind (the mother of Jared) are in league against his wife, Lillian (mother of Ash.) In the first book, Kami was Jared’s source, which made him a stronger sorcerer. That link was broken, and Kami is left uncertain about her relationship with Jared. Where her feelings for him true? What does he think about her? It used to be easy, because the link meant that they could hear each other’s thoughts. Now, not so much, and it’s complicated by Ash.

Untold begins with the attack of the scarecrows: it’s scary but also a bit funny, and emphasizes the power of Rob’s sorcery but also how even this can be fought against, by both regular and magical means.

Lillian is as arrogant as her husband, Rob, but with one crucial difference. She believes the Lynburns are rightful leaders and sorcerers, but she doesn’t believe in things like human sacrifice. She’s disappointed that her son, Ash, followed his father for a time. She thinks that Kami — especially now that she is no longer Jared’s source — is a nuisance who gets in the way. Lillian is good only in contrast to Rob and her follower’s, but despite that (or maybe because of it?) she is one of my favorite characters. As Kami observes late in the book, “Kami had never actually liked Lillian, but she admired her for a moment, with all her heart, and then her heart sank.”

Kami and Lillian are both strategizing against Rob, with Kami’s the primary story, of course, and Lillian’s in the background. As you may remember from my post about When Adults Read Books For Teens, that’s how I think it should be. What Brennan does masterfully in this series is she does so without getting rid of the adults, or having them unreasonably ignorant or stupid or cowardly. The adults such as Lillian and Kami’s own parents are doing things, they just aren’t the main point of the story. And that is part of what is so great about the plotting in Untold; it makes sense, the roles and power that the different characters have.

The third book, Unmade, is due out in September. Luckily, not too long a wait! There is a bit of a cliffhanger at the end of Untold, but not anything too frustrating or to make one throw the book against the wall. The main plot of Untold is wrapped up; the end is more a hint of what has to be taken care of in the third book. (And let me say, I don’t envy Brennan, because I have no idea how all of this is going to work out.)

So, yes, a Favorite Book Read in 2014.

Other reviews: YA Bibliophile; Speculating on SpecFic; Book Lovers for Life.

When Adults Read Books For Teens

I am not a teenager.

Not for quite some time.

But, for multiple reasons, I read a lot of teen books. I read them because I review them, here at Tea Cozy; I read them because as a librarian who works with teens, I need to know about the books they want and need; I read them because they are good books.

I’m not the only non-teenager who reads teen books. Other people who read them, like me, have many reasons for reading them.

I read the reviews and comments by non-teen readers, and there is one particular type of reader reaction I’d like to explore in a bit more detail.

It’s how adult readers respond to the adults in teen books. I’m not going to link to any particular review or response, because this isn’t about one person or reader or book.

In a nutshell, the type of response I mean is when the reader complains that the parents are too absent; the parents are too uninvolved; the parents are too mean, or too controlling, or too clueless. The teens do everything and the adults are useless and why are the adults that way? It’s not realistic!

Listen, I get it. I read the teen books and I do the math and realize that I’m the age (or older) of the parents in the books.

As is often said, books can work as both mirrors and windows. An adult reading a teen book is reading a book for a teen audience. Read it with your teen self in mind; read it with teens you know in mind; read it just because it’s a good book.

But to read it looking for a mirror of yourself at your present age — that’s not fair to the book. And it’s not fair to the teen readers the book is intended for.

There are many reasons why adults and parents in teen books are portrayed the way the are. Because some parents are like that, and it’s some people’s reality. Because sometimes even if it’s not a teen’s actual reality, it’s an emotional reality. Because a teen perspective and an adult perspective on the same thing may be very different, and books for teens are about their perspective.

Because it’s a book written for teens, so of course the central players are going to be teens, and there will be various and sundry reasons as to why the adults aren’t taking care of all the problems. Some will be realistic; others may seem a stretch, in that really, there is no one else who can stop that war?

Because the point of a teen book isn’t to get teens to appreciate adults, or to see how you should ask adults to solve your problems. It’s not for teens to learn a message about how adults see the world.

Books for teens are, well, for teens.

And there is nothing wrong with adults reading books for teens. But there is something wrong with reading books for teens and expecting the adults to behave the way that you, the adult reader, either behaves or believe you behave.




Flashback: February 2009

And now a flashback to what I was reading in February 2009.

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith. From my review: “December 1941. Eighteen year old Ida Mae Jones is cleaning houses, saving to go to Chicago to pursue her dream of flying. She’s black; but that’s not why the local instructor in Louisiana won’t pass her and give her a pilot’s license. It’s because she’s a woman. The flight school in Chicago will give her what she wants — a chance. Pearl Harbor changes everything. Her older brother, Thomas, drops out of medical school to join the Army and asks her to stay home to help their mother and grandfather on the farm and to look after their younger brother, Abel. Fast forward two years, and Abel tells her about WASP: Women Airforce Service Pilots. Ida Mae can fly and serve her county. She’s going to have to leave home, leave her family and her best friend. And she’s going to have to deny she’s black. Light-skinned with “good” hair, if she dresses the right way, says the right thing, she can pass as white. And fly.”

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. From my review: “Mary’s life in the village is predictable. The Sisterhood, the Guardians, and the Guild keep the secrets and protect the village. People follow the rules, whether it’s staying away from the Fence or marrying the person you should, not the person you want. When Mary loses her parents and her family, she begins to ask questions and to want more than to love or be loved. Before she can figure out the answers, the Unconsecrated threaten to overrun the village.”